Jared Cannonier faces the biggest breakthrough of his career when he faces former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker at UFC 254.
The co-main event on Fight Island will also see Khabib Nurmagomedov take on Justin Gaethje, a fight you can listen to live on talkSPORT starting at 7pm.
The “Killa Gorilla” comes woefully close to pulling off a middleweight title shot to face Israel Adesanya, but knows full well that “Bobby Knuckles” is a world-class operator he cannot afford to forget.
But overcoming obstacles is second nature to Cannonier, a US Army veteran, who once weighed over 300 pounds.
Almost a decade before his sensational victory over Jack Hermansson in September 2019, the former soldier was maintaining air traffic control equipment for the Federal Aviation Administration in Alaska.
Cannonier was fired from the military three years after entering service due to testing positive for marijuana, but his interest in MMA spiked thanks to the combative training course.
His wife, Cat, told ESPN: “When Jared and I first met he wasn’t really that big.
“We were young, had no children, he was in good shape. He weighed around 225 pounds and had those massive, well-shaped arms.
He first fought professionally in 2011 after finding a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym in Anchorage, Alaska, and recorded six saves, with five first-round finishes as a heavyweight.
In 2015, he made his UFC debut weighing a whopping 241 pounds, but Cannonier admitted something was wrong.
“I already knew when I was in heavyweight that I was not a natural heavyweight compared to the other guys I would be competing against,” said Cannonier. “I am realistic. I don’t live in a fantasy. I know what. It was only a matter of time. I knew I had to get there.
In order to make the 205 lb limit for light and heavy weights, Cannonier woke up at 3:30 a.m. and ran or go to the gym to ride the AirDyne bike for an hour. He would then go do a ten hour day as an air traffic control mechanic before training in MMA.
After a year he decided to move his family to Phoenix, Arizona – but moving a division didn’t have the desired effect. He was 2-3 in light-heavyweight, but the pounds continued to drop.
The 5-foot-11 slugger first hit 185 pounds in the UFC at the end of 2018 and has won three consecutive TKO stoppage fights, including against legend Anderson Silva.
The days of snacking, like when he worked for the FAA, are long gone, with the 36-year-old admitting he notices the marked difference in his performance if he doesn’t eat well.
“Especially if I eat dairy products, I feel more congested,” Cannonier said. “I feel more tired after eating a steak. I feel heavy, a little slower.
“After eating something for so long, your body gets used to their side effects, and you really don’t notice them.”
Cannonier typically weighs between 210 and 215 pounds during training camp and is certainly not close to the realms of a “ big middleweight ”.
Paulo Costa, for example, weighed 213.8 pounds on the day of the UFC 241 fight against Yoel Romero in August 2019.
But the power that brought him fame and fortune as a heavyweight still hasn’t deserted the former soldier, who hopes the victory will cement his place as the number one challenger for “The Last Stylebender.”
“They’re definitely not that big, they’re definitely not that big,” Cannonier said of the middleweights. “It’s a more level playing field for me now.
“I still have the same power I had at heavyweights. People want to call it heavy power – no, it’s Cannonier power. “